Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids (2015)
Disney World can be overwhelming for first-time guests, but these tips will turn even a group of overwhelmed newbies into a Disney-savvy family.
The size of Walt Disney World is often a shock to first-time visitors, many of whom arrive with vague notions that they can walk from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom or even that they are separate sections of the same theme park. There can also be confusion over the names: Some people use “Walt Disney World” and “Magic Kingdom” synonymously; in reality, the Magic Kingdom is a relatively small part of the much larger Disney World complex. There’s more to this place than Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain. It’s vital that you have at least a basic understanding of the Disney World layout and transportation system before you leave home.
Many of the tips in this chapter encourage you to visit more than one park a day—to follow a morning hitting the waterslides at Blizzard Beach, for example, with an afternoon taking in the shows at Hollywood. The best way to avoid overstimulation and burnout is to work a variety of experiences—some active, some passive, some educational, some silly—into each day. (Note that this strategy requires you to have a Park Hopper Pass.)
General Disney World Touring Tips
When it comes to touring, families tend to fall into three groups. The first group sleeps in, has a full-service meal at their hotel, and lollygags over to the parks around 11 am. They wander around, finding the lines for major rides so long that their only choices are either to wait 90 minutes for Splash Mountain or to spend the whole afternoon riding minor attractions. By the time they begin to get in a groove (for example, they figure out time-saving systems like FastPass+), it’s 5 pm and they’re exhausted. They retreat to their hotel room frustrated at how little they’ve seen, irritated by how much they’ve spent, and carping at each other. This is a vacation?
The second group is what I call Disney World Commandos. These hyper-organized types have elaborate tour plans and march determinedly from ride to ride, checking off their “to do” list as they go. Amanda wants to ride Dumbo twice in a row? No way! It’ll throw them off schedule. Jeffrey wants to play one of the interactive games like Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at Epcot? Sorry, it’s not on the list. If anything unforeseen happens—Space Mountain opens late or there’s a glitch in the bus system—the whole group goes into a psychological meltdown. This is a vacation?
Disney-savvy families find the sweet spot between the two extremes. They have an overall plan but make sure to leave empty spaces in the day to allow for spontaneity. They get an early start each morning but factor in plenty of downtime to rest, particularly in the afternoon. Most important, they’re familiar enough with each park and its attractions that they arrive with a clear idea of what they want to see but don’t feel compelled to do it all. One father of four from Washington wrote, “Disney World is so big and so overwhelming that the first time we went down we spent hours just aimlessly drifting around. People need some kind of plan.”
The following tips should help you make the most of your time without pushing parents or kids past their endurance level.
For families with kids, it’s especially important to avoid the exhaustion that comes with just trying to get to one of the parks. If you’re visiting at a crowded time and staying off-site, it can take two hours from the time you leave your hotel until you board your first ride, which is enough to shatter the equanimity of even the most well-behaved kid. Your children have been waiting for this vacation a long time, and now they’ve been flying and driving for a long time. You owe it to them to get into the parks quickly.
Use your FastPass+ options and use them wisely. They are a gift from the Disney gods and should not be squandered but used only for the most popular and slow-moving attractions. This might mean rides or it might mean character interactions, especially those that involve the princesses.
As of this writing, guests are allowed to make three FastPass+ reservations per day in advance, and those three reservations must be used in the same theme park on three different rides. Thereafter, you can make as many FastPass+ reservations as you have time for and use them for any rides in the park (including multiple trips through the same attraction), but they can only be made one at a time through a kiosk. And while the first three reservations all have to be within the same park, the subsequent reservations you get through a kiosk can be from any park. For example, if you make three reservations in the Magic Kingdom in the morning, you can go to Animal Kingdom in the afternoon and make more FastPass+ reservations there.
Your FastPass+ selections will be linked to your ticket, whether it is your MagicBand or a plastic ticket. A guest with a FastPass+ is allowed to enter a shorter line whether it is for a ride or a character experience. A guest with a FastPass+ for a parade or show will be directed toward a reserved section in the theater or along the parade route. Note that this reserved section isn’t necessarily the front row, just guaranteed access to the event without having to line up an hour early. In other words, with parades and shows, the primary thing your FastPass+ gains you is time, not to mention the risk you won’t be seated at all.
Also remember that each family member needs their own FastPass+. One FastPass+ won’t get all four of you onto Space Mountain.
Come early! If you follow only one tip in the whole book, make it this one. Although in recent years the mornings have become more crowded than they used to be, you’ll still find far shorter waits for big-deal rides than you will in the afternoon.
As great as the FastPass+ is, you don’t always need one. Don’t bother using a FastPass+ if this is an attraction that routinely only draws moderate lines, such as “it’s a small world” in the Magic Kingdom, or if the attraction in question is a theater-style show, such as Beauty and the Beast at Hollywood Studios, which admits hundreds of people at once. Essentially, you want to use your FastPass+ privilege where it will be most valuable—at the attractions that draw the largest crowds. This book—or the My Disney Experience app—can direct you toward the attractions where FastPass+ is at its most useful. If you don’t have a smart phone to use the app, you can make reservations at a FastPass+ kiosk, either in one of the parks or at a Disney hotel.
Best of all, if you change your mind—or if you discover that the wait time for a popular ride isn’t so bad after all—you can change the FastPass+ reservations on the fly as long as you do so before your ride time expires. So if you have a FastPass+ reservation for Splash Mountain at 10 am but find that you can ride quickly after the rope drop, you can cancel that and get a new FastPass+ reservation for a different ride, either by using the app on your smart phone or a FastPass+ kiosk.
Every Disney World guidebook on the market tells people to come early, so it’s no shock that in the 26 years since this book’s first edition, the mornings have become more crowded. The good news for you is that most people visiting Disney World still arrive between 10 and 11 am, many of them proudly announcing that this is their vacation and they’ll sleep in if they want. (These same people seem to take a strange inverse pride in bragging about how long they stood in line and how little they saw.) Arriving early is like exercising regularly: Everyone knows you should do it, but most people don’t. An early start is still the best way to ride major attractions with little or no wait time.
If, for example, the Magic Kingdom is scheduled to open at 9 am, be at the gate by 8:30. At least part of the park is usually open early and you can be at the end of Main Street awaiting the rope drop while the other 50,000 poor saps are still crawling along Interstate 4.
If you’re indeed allowed to enter the first section of the park early, use your time wisely. Take care of any business—get maps and entertainment schedules, rent strollers, take a potty break—before the main park opens. If you haven’t had breakfast, there’s always some sort of quick-service place where you can grab juice and muffins. The characters are usually on hand to greet kids, which is a fun way to start the day. But be sure to be at the ropes about 10 minutes before the stated opening times.
Planning Your Ride Time
To keep guests from stampeding after the rope drop, Disney controls how fast you can enter the main body of the park. Once the whole park opens, proceed quickly but calmly (they’ll nab you if you run) to the first ride you’d like to board.
For those who are unable to use the My Disney Experience app, kiosks have been set up throughout the park, including at the entrance. Lines shouldn’t be terribly long, but if you are planning on using a kiosk, head there immediately upon entering the park. Here you will use a touch screen to select your FastPass+ times for the day, much like you would through the My Disney Experience app. A Disney cast member is always on hand to help you use the kiosks and understand FastPass+.
But consider moving on to your top-priority attraction first, and return to the kiosk after taking advantage of the relative emptiness of the early morning hours.
Plan to see the most popular attractions either early in the day, late at night, or during a time when a big event siphons off other potential riders (such as the afternoon parade in the Magic Kingdom).
Kids usually want to revisit their favorite attractions, and parents who overschedule to the point where there’s no time to go back risk a mutiny. One way to handle this is to save the entire last day of your trip for “greatest hits” and go back to all your favorites one more time, even if this means maximum park hopping.
When scheduling your FastPass+ reservations, use a bit of reverse psychology. Use them when the park is at its most crowded, i.e. late morning and early afternoon. Also, space your FastPass+ times at least an hour apart. Some of the attractions where they are most valuable—Enchanted Tales with Belle and Princess Fairytale Hall—are time-consuming experiences even if you don’t have to wait in a long line. Finally—and most importantly—remember that FastPass+ works on a first-come, first-served basis. Only a certain number are available per attraction, so make your choices well in advance, using the My Disney Experience app before you leave home. The most popular princess meet-and-greets sometimes fill up weeks in advance during the on-season. There are also kiosks in each park where guests can obtain a FastPass+, but the selection there is likely to be more limited, and there will be lines.
Time-Saving Tip The single most important thing you can do to make your Disney visit go more smoothly? Use FastPass+ for the most popular attractions.
Planning Your Meal Breaks
If you can, eat at “off” times. Some families eat lightly at breakfast, have an early lunch around 11 am, and supper at 5 pm. Others eat a more substantial breakfast and then a late lunch around 3 pm and have a final meal back at their hotel after the parks close. If you tour late and you’re really bushed, all on-site hotels and many off-site hotels have in-room pizza delivery service.
Time-Saving Tip To maximize your time in the parks, either eat breakfast at your hotel or buy fast food while you’re waiting for the rope drop. There’s always at least one sit-down place to get breakfast in each park, but you don’t want to waste the relatively uncrowded morning hours in a restaurant.
Creating a Touring Plan
Use the touring plan to cut down on arguments and debates. It’s a naive parent indeed who sits down at breakfast and asks, “What do you want to do today?” Three different kids will have three different answers. Here are some of the issues to consider when making those plans.
When making plans, keep the size of the parks in mind. Hollywood is small and can be easily crisscrossed to take in various shows. Likewise, the Animal Kingdom can be toured in five or six hours. The Magic Kingdom has more attractions and more crowd density, slowing you down; although some cutting back and forth is possible, you’ll probably want to tour one land fairly thoroughly before heading to another. Epcot is so enormous that you’re almost forced to visit attractions in geographic sequence or you’ll spend all your time and energy in transit.
If your kids have the stamina for it, try park hopping. Families with a multiday pass might figure: We’ll spend Monday at the Magic Kingdom, Tuesday at Hollywood, Wednesday at Blizzard Beach, Thursday at Epcot, and Friday at the Animal Kingdom. It sounds logical, but a day at the Magic Kingdom is too much riding, 14 hours at Epcot is too much walking, the Animal Kingdom simply doesn’t require that much time, a whole day at Hollywood is too many shows, and anyone who stays at Blizzard Beach from dawn to dusk will wind up waterlogged. Mix it up a bit.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the sprawling WDW transportation system. If you’re staying on-site you’ll be given a transportation guide at check-in, and Guest Relations (a.k.a. Guest Services) can help you decide the best route to take to out-of-the-way locations.
Planning for Wait Times
If you’re trying to predict how crowded a ride or show will be, five factors come into effect:
In general, the newer it is, the hotter it is, which is why the expanded section of Fantasyland, which hosts a variety of relatively new attractions, is always busy.
Space Mountain, Fantasmic!, and other Disney classics will still be mobbed years from now.
SPEED OF LOADING
Continuous-loading attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid can move thousands of people through in an hour. The lines at start-and-stop rides such as Dumbo move much more slowly, as do the lines for character-interaction experiences, such as Enchanted Tales with Belle or Princess Fairytale Hall.
Shows like Festival of the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Mickey’s PhilharMagic have theaters that can accommodate large crowds. For this reason, theater-style attractions are good choices in the afternoon, when the park is at its most crowded and you need a rest.
Any attraction where you are meeting a character, such as Enchanted Tales with Belle or Princess Fairytale Hall, both in the Magic Kingdom, will automatically have slow-moving lines. People love these interactive experiences because the characters take a lot of time with their kids. Trouble is, they’re taking a lot of time with everyone else’s kids, too.
ANNA AND ELSA
The line to meet the Frozen princesses at Princess Fairytale Hall can exceed 2 hours. Make a FastPass+ reservation if you can. Otherwise, try to arrive early.
For families with young children, seeing the characters is a major part of what makes Disney World special, so don’t overplan to the point where you have no time to hang with Mickey and the gang. Your theme-park map and the My Disney Experience app indicate when and where they’ll appear, but the one place you probably won’t see them is just walking down the street. At Disney, the characters are the equivalent of rock stars, and security around them is tight. If you want that photo, autograph, or hug, you’ll need to line up or schedule a character meal.
Go digital. The My Disney Experience app provides real-time info about line lengths, FastPass+ return times, and even the locations of the characters for meet and greets. It’s also GPS enabled to keep you oriented and to help when you need to find a character, a hamburger, or a restroom—and fast.
In the off-season, the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood, and the Animal Kingdom sometimes close at 5 or 6 pm, but Epcot always stays open later, even during the least-crowded days of the year. So spend your days at one of the parks that closes early and your evenings at Epcot. This buys you more hours in the parks for your money and, besides, many of the best places for dinner are at Epcot.
If there’s a wide gap in the ages of your kids, be aware of which attractions are so intense that you’ll need to split up. There are plenty of places throughout all four parks where Disney has put kiddie attractions next to rides that appeal to older kids. For example, the Beauty and the Beast show at Hollywood Studios is just down the block from the Tower of Terror and Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. One parent can take the younger kids to the show while the other takes the older kids to the thrill rides. Likewise, at the Animal Kingdom, the Dinosaur ride scares the willies out of youngsters, but the nearby Boneyard is a great place for them to play while their older siblings are on the ride. Other attractions—such as Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Soarin’, and Kilimanjaro Safaris—are designed for all ages to experience together.
If you’ll be at Disney World for more than four days, consider planning a day off in the middle of your vacation. A day in the middle of the trip devoted to sleeping in, hanging around the hotel pool, shopping at Downtown Disney, and maybe taking in a character breakfast at an on-site hotel can make all the difference. Not only will you save a day on your multiday ticket, but you’ll also start the next morning refreshed and energized.
You need a strategy for closing time. The major parks all have nighttime extravaganzas that result in logjams as nearly every guest in the park convenes for the show and then mobs the exits when it’s over. See the “Exit Strategies” section in each park for specific information on how best to exit.
Tips for Visitors Staying On-Site
If you’re staying at a Disney resort, count yourself lucky and take advantage of all the perks and shortcuts you can.
One of the greatest advantages of staying on-site is the shortened commute to the theme parks, making for an easy return to your hotel for a mid-afternoon nap or swim. You can reenter the parks in the early evening. Remember the mantra: Come early, stay late, and take a break in the middle of the day.
Extra Magic Hours
Take advantage of the Extra Magic Hour program. You’re given a brochure at check-in telling you which park is featured on which day of your visit. This information is also incorporated into the My Disney Experience app. If you want to use this information in your pretrip planning, visit www.disneyworld.com to verify which park will have extended hours on which day.
If you are staying on-site, you can make FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance, which means if you plan your trip carefully, you can make your selections a full month before guests staying off-site. That means you’ll have more choices.
Tips for Visitors Staying Off-Site
While it’s often easier to bite the bullet and stay on-site, that’s not always possible. Saving on accommodations (and even some meals) is a good thing, and you can still have fun even if you aren’t spending every single moment of your vacation on Disney property.
Time Your Commute
If you can make it from your hotel to the theme-park gates within 30 minutes, it may still be worth your while to return to your hotel for a midday break. If your hotel is farther out and your commute is longer, it’s doubtful you’ll want to make the drive four times a day.
Find a Place to Rest
If it isn’t feasible to return to your hotel, find afternoon resting places within the parks. (See the sections headed “Afternoon Resting Places.”) Sometimes kids aren’t so much tired as full of pent-up energy. If that’s the case, take them to the play areas in each park (Tom Sawyer Island in the Magic Kingdom; the play fountains in Epcot; the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure at Hollywood; and the Boneyard at the Animal Kingdom) and let them run around for a bit.
Eat at the Resorts
The restaurants in the Magic Kingdom resorts are rarely crowded at lunch, and dining there is much more relaxed and leisurely than eating in the park. An early dinner can also effectively break up a summer day, when you’ll be staying at the park until late. If you do take the monorail to a Magic Kingdom resort, be sure to line up for the train marked “Resort Monorail” and not the express back to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC).
Off-site visitors tend to tour all day, so either bring or rent strollers for preschoolers. Few four-year-olds can walk through a 14-hour day.
Disney is still tinkering with changes to the FastPass+ system. As of this writing, off-site visitors with tickets in hand can reserve three FastPass+ selections (per day, but only in a single park) up to 30 days in advance. Then as many more (one at a time) as they have time to use, but only through a kiosk in the park. This might change, but even if it doesn’t, not all off-site visitors get their tickets in advance. If you arrive at a theme park with no FastPass+ reservations and without access to the My Disney Experience app, hotfoot it to the first kiosk you see and make your choices. And be prepared for the likelihood that the most popular times and attractions may no longer be available thanks to on-site visitors who made their FastPass+ reservations weeks in advance.
Use Park Hopper
If you have the Park Hopper option on your ticket, spend the morning in a park where you’ll be active (like the Animal Kingdom or the Magic Kingdom) and in the afternoon transfer to a park (such as Epcot or Hollywood) that has more shows and, thus, more places to sit and rest.
It isn’t easy to save money at Disney, but the following tips will help.
Disney Dining Plans
By turning your vacation into more of an all-inclusive, the plans help you better gauge the cost of your trip in advance, a planning tool that some families prefer to showing up and winging it.
Choose wisely when it comes to your hotel. A more expensive hotel with lots of family-friendly perks might end up being more cost-effective than a hotel with a lower nightly rate but no extras.
Tickets are expensive, so use them only on days when you can maximize your hours in the park. This might mean not visiting a park on the first or last day of your vacation, when your travel schedule cuts into your available time; instead, use these days for a character breakfast at a Disney hotel, a visit to Downtown Disney, miniature golf, or just to relax at the hotel pool.
Controlling Extra Charges
Be aware of how little things add up, especially now that the MagicBands make it oh-so-easy to charge even the smallest item back to the room. Bring strollers, sunscreen, water bottles, diapers, etc., from home. Make lunch your big meal of the day. Let two family members share a drink or a meal. Ask for a cup of ice water instead of buying bottled water at quick-service venues. And bring resealable plastic bags so that you can save leftover chips and fruit for a later snack.
One savvy mom from Wisconsin suggested that you hold souvenir shopping to a minimum by giving each child a gift card with a reasonable amount of money on it the first day you arrive. “If they know they have $40 to spend for the whole trip,” she wrote, “they may decide on their own that they don’t really need that $20 toy. It keeps them from begging and whining for every little thing you pass.”
When it comes to character mania, cut corners where you can. If you figure out ways to meet the characters inside the park, you won’t have to pay for a character breakfast. One mother from Florida reported that she bought her daughter’s Cinderella dress on sale at the Disney Store before they left home and then did her own version of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in their hotel room on the morning of their character lunch. “I dabbed on a little makeup and put her hair in an updo with glitter hairspray,” she said. “This alone saved us a hundred dollars.”
On the other hand, when faced with a preschooler determined to have one of those $15 Mickey balloons they sell on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, there are times that you just have to take a deep breath and get over it. “Choose your battles carefully,” advised an Oklahoma mom. “It’s their vacation too. Buy them the balloon already.”
Tips to Save Your Sanity
Pardon us if we are repeating ourselves with some of these tips, but good advice sometimes bears repeating.
Use Your Time Wisely
This boils down to one thing: Avoid the lines.
Head for the most crowded, slow-loading attractions first. In the Magic Kingdom that’s Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain, and any attraction within the new Fantasyland section, especially Enchanted Tales with Belle, Princess Fairytale Hall, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. In Epcot it’s Soarin’ and Test Track. At Hollywood it’s Toy Story Mania, the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, and the Tower of Terror. At the Animal Kingdom it’s Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris.
Ride as many of the big-deal rides as you can in the morning, when waits are shorter. In general, save theater-style attractions for the afternoon. And if you can’t get to all the big-deal rides in the first couple of hours the park is open, try again during the parades or the last hour before closing.
Be Willing to Split Up
By this point in the planning process, it’s probably beginning to dawn on you that every member of your family expects something different from this vacation.
Discuss which attractions you’ll enjoy as a family; some rides, shows, restaurants, and parades will be a blast for everyone. But there are also bound to be some attractions that won’t have universal appeal, especially if there’s a significant gap in the ages of your children.
If only one or two members of the family are into a certain show or ride, there’s no need to drag the whole crew along. Preteens and teenagers, in fact, often like to split off for an hour or two. Security in Disney parks is tight, so this is an option worth considering. Just make sure to have a clearly designated meeting time and place or remind them to keep checking their cell phones for your calls or texts.
Know When You Don’t Need FastPass+
As great as FastPass+ is, you don’t always need one. Don’t use the FastPass+ system if (a) the wait time in the general-admittance line is 20 minutes or less, (b) the attraction in question is a theater-style show that admits hundreds of people at once, or (c) you plan to ride an even more popular attraction later. Essentially, you want to use your FastPass+ privilege where it’s most effective: for the big-deal rides that get the largest crowds.
Tips for Big Families
The official Disney website (www.disneyworld.com) offers special planning advice for large families, including a list of resorts with the sort of accommodations you’ll likely need. The following tips may also make things a little less hectic. TIP The My Disney Experience app allows families to share information (such as reserved dining times or FastPass+ info) as well as pictures, and thus can serve as a sort of “group memo” to remind everyone of upcoming events.
If you have a large group all on the dining plan, you may qualify for a special dining experience. These experiences vary, but in the past have included an IllumiNations reception at Epcot, a safari-theme meal at the Animal Kingdom, and a character breakfast at the Magic Kingdom. Your options will be explained to you when you add the dining plan to your package.
It’s approximately, um, three times harder to get a table for 12 than one for 4, so make dining reservations early. If you have trouble getting bookings, eat at off times (say, 3 pm for lunch or 5 for dinner) or stick to resort restaurants, which are generally less crowded than those in the parks. Note: A gratuity of 18% is added for parties of eight or more—even at buffet restaurants).
Consider renting a villa or condo. Many have kitchens, so you can save on eating out. On-site resorts with villa-style lodging include Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, BoardWalk Villas, the Beach Club Villas, the Grand Floridian Villas, the Bay Lake Towers at the Contemporary, the Villas at Wilderness Lodge, and the soon-to-open Polynesian Villas. There are also plenty of off-site condos and villas for rent; check out the Off-Site Hotels section in Chapter 2 for ideas.
If you’d like a little less togetherness, book more rooms but ask that they be adjoining.
Transportation can be an issue, especially if there’s a wide variation in the ages, stamina, and risk tolerance of the family members. Older kids will probably want to stay at the park all day, while toddlers and great-grandparents might be burned out and ready to rest by noon. Either way, stay on-site so you can use the Disney transportation system at your leisure, or, if you’re driving, bring more than one vehicle to the parks so that family members have the option to leave early.
Tips for Guests with Disabilities
Sadly, for years, some visitors have looked for ways to take unacceptable advantage of Disney’s generous policy toward guests with disabilities. Able-bodied people would rent Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECVs) simply to avoid walking and for the free front-of-the-line access. This glut of ECVs, often badly driven by theme-park guests who were clearly using them for the first time, really held up the system, especially on buses, where it takes considerable effort to load and unload them. Ergo, Disney has tightened the system.
Disability Access Service Cards
Disney has recently overhauled their services for guests with disabilities. Guests needing extra help, including those with Down syndrome and autism, now visit Guest Relations upon arrival at the theme park to pick up a Disability Access Service card. A cast member will take the guest’s picture to be placed on the pass, thus ensuring that the card can only be used by the person who needs it, and by those traveling with him or her. You then show the pass to the cast member standing at the entrance to each attraction. Most lines have now been altered to cater to guests in wheelchairs or with disabilities, so expect to sometimes use the normal queue. Otherwise the cast member will hand you a ticket that will in effect hold your place in line. For example, if the line to Space Mountain is 30 minutes long, you will receive a special type of FastPass+ to return 30 minutes later.
The Disability Access Cards, especially when held by children, guarantee you a little special treatment. One mother of a special-needs child wrote that her four-year-old son was nervous about meeting Captain Hook, but she told him to show the villain his “special card.” Hook rose to the occasion, dramatically blowing his nose on the card before returning it to the child with great ceremony. “Andrew was laughing by then,” the mother said, “and didn’t worry about meeting characters for the rest of the trip.”
You can rent wheelchairs ($12 per day, $10 per day for multiday use) and Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECVs; $50 per day plus an additional refundable $20 deposit) on a first-come, first-served basis.
Download a copy of the official Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities at www.disneyworld.com when you book your room. It offers detailed information on how to approach each attraction. You can also get the guidebook at any Disney hotel and Guest Relations window, but having it in advance will help you know what to expect.
Accessible Guest Rooms
People with disabilities give the Disney resorts high marks for convenience at reasonable prices. The All-Star resorts, for example, have several wheelchair-accessible rooms that begin as low as $109 a night. Most of the on-site resorts offer rooms with specially equipped bathrooms and extra-large doors, and, if you request it, you can have a complimentary wheelchair waiting for you upon check-in.
For more detailed information on hotel options for people with disabilities, call Central Reservations at 407/934-7639 (407/W-DISNEY) and ask for the Special Reservations Department.
The monorail, buses, boats, and other forms of transportation are all wheelchair accessible.
Storage for Medications
You can refrigerate insulin and other medications at first-aid stations, all on-site hotels, and most off-site hotels.
Tips for Guests with Visual Disabilities
Guests with visual disabilities should be aware that guide dogs are welcome at all parks and many area hotels. You can also borrow a wireless-enabled Assistive Technology Device describing the attractions at each park or a Braille guidebook with a refundable deposit. Just visit Guest Relations.
Tips for Guests with Hearing Disabilities
Guests who are deaf can pick up a handheld captioning device at Guest Relations. This device works on many attractions. Guests with some hearing loss can rent listening devices that amplify attraction music and words. The devices are available through Guest Relations with a refundable deposit.
TTYs are available throughout Disney World, and guests can also contact Disney Reservations via TTY at 407/939-7670.
Tips from Our Readers
Finally, here are some words of reassurance. If you’re traveling with someone who has a health problem or disability, rest assured that the Disney World cast members will help you in any way they can. Because Disney World is frequently visited by children sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation and other programs like it, the Disney staff is accustomed to dealing with a wide range of situations, even cases in which visitors are seriously ill. The key is to make sure that Disney employees both at your hotel and within the parks are aware of your presence and that you may need assistance. With a few preliminary phone calls, you’ll find that Disney World is one of the best possible travel destinations for such families.
A dad of three, including a special-needs eight-year-old, wrote, “We heard how Disney cast members go out of their way to accommodate special children. We found this to be absolutely true. For any ride that William could go on, we got front-of-line privileges. We also were escorted to special viewing areas for shows and parades.”
A mom from Connecticut wrote, “We informed our hotel (the Contemporary), in advance, of our daughter’s health problems and when we checked in, we were delighted to learn that our family had been invited to ride in the first car of the afternoon parade at the Magic Kingdom. The cast member told us that there is no way to guarantee such an invitation, but that if they know a special-needs child is visiting, they try to offer some treats. Riding in the convertible and waving to the crowd was the highlight of our daughter’s week.”
“My 6-year-old daughter has some usable vision but is legally blind,” wrote another mom. “We knew she wouldn’t be able to enjoy most of the shows, so we stopped by Guest Relations, and they gave us [our special card]. Any time we approached a show, she held out the card and a cast member would escort us to [up-front] seating. This meant the world to all of us. She was able to actually see Belle dancing with the Prince.”
Tips for Pregnant Guests
Talk about the circle of life. Kim, this book’s original author, first toured Disney World almost three decades ago, when she was pregnant with her daughter Leigh. Leigh has recently welcomed her own first child. So we’re proof that it is possible to have a great time in the parks while pregnant—as long as you take a few precautions:
Make regular meal stops. Instead of buying a turkey leg from a vendor, get out of the sun and off your feet at a sit-down restaurant.
If you aren’t accustomed to walking the typical Disney trek of 7 miles a day, begin getting in shape a couple of months before the trip by taking 30- to 40-minute walks. Make sure to “train” outside if possible—the Florida heat and humidity make touring Disney much different from walking the treadmill inside a gym.
Dehydration is a real danger. Keep water in your tote bag and sip frequently. You can refill your bottle at water fountains throughout the parks or ask for free refills at any counter-service location.
Consider staying on-site so that you can return to your room in the afternoon to rest.
Mothers-to-be are welcome to rest in the rocking chairs inside Baby Care.
The most important tip of all if you’re pregnant: Check out restroom locations in advance.
Standing stock-still can be more tiring than walking when you’re pregnant, so let your husband stand in line for rides. You and the kids can join him as he’s about to enter the final turn of the line.
Birthdays and Special Occasions
Celebrating a birthday? Anniversary? Graduation? Is it your first visit? Drop by Guest Relations in each park and pick up a free pin announcing your status. Cast members keep an eye out for special visitors and will make an extra effort to acknowledge them, especially a child wearing a birthday pin. One mother reported that when the characters in the afternoon parade saw her daughter’s birthday pin, they made a point to come over and high-five her or shake her hand.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion, the general rule is “Ask and you shall (probably) receive.” If you’re staying at a Disney resort, inform Guest Relations or the concierge in advance if you’d like flowers or a gift delivered on a special day. Rooms can also be decked out with confetti, balloons, and banners while you’re in the park so that the celebrant returns to find a decorated room. If you want to celebrate with a special meal, make reservations at your restaurant of choice weeks in advance and let the manager know your preferences. You can arrange for a special cake that’s themed to the occasion and the likes of the birthday boy or girl. (And if you want to have a full birthday party on-site, there are locations for that as well.)
One mother wrote that her son celebrated his birthday at a character breakfast featuring Pooh and friends. The cake was delivered to the table by Tigger, the child’s favorite character, who then led the birthday guests in an impromptu parade around the restaurant. Or consider the young man who proposed to his girlfriend at the Coral Reef in the Seas pavilion at Epcot. The couple was having dinner next to the mammoth glass aquarium when, at the key moment, one of the divers swam by the table carrying a sign that read, “Will you marry me?” When the girl turned to look at her boyfriend, he was on one knee with the ring—and the whole restaurant stood up and cheered when she said yes.
If you’d like to add some treats and surprises to a special occasion, contact the management at the hotel or restaurant. With their help, you should have no trouble finding a way to make the day memorable.
Customizing Your Touring Plan
Both Disney’s website, www.disneyworld.com, and the app My Disney Experience are good sources of preliminary information, including theme-park hours during the time that you’ll be visiting, the times for Extra Magic Hours, and any attractions scheduled to be closed for refurbishment.
Ask Yourself Some Basic Questions
Consider how long you’ll want to stay at each park. If your kids are under eight, you’ll probably want to spend more time in the Magic Kingdom. Older kids? Plan to divide your time fairly equally among the major parks and save some time for the water parks and Downtown Disney.
If you’re a single parent, consider vacationing with one of your siblings or another single parent. “My daughter is 11 and my son is 4,” wrote one mother from Texas. “They like totally different things, and it would have been impossible to give them both the Disney experience they wanted if we’d gone to Orlando by ourselves. So we went with my sister and nephew, rented a nice condo, and had a great time. I did the wild rides with my daughter and meanwhile my sister, who is so prone to motion sickness that she once threw up in an elevator, took the boys around to meet all the characters.”
“It’s never a good idea to let the kids outnumber the adults,” added another single mother, from New Jersey. “My friend Jenny, who doesn’t have kids but who loves being an unofficial aunt, has gone down to Disney with us twice. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d have the guts to try it.”
The time of year you’ll be visiting is a major factor, too; although you may be able to tour Hollywood thoroughly in a single day in October, it will take you twice as long to see the same number of attractions in July. In summer the combination of the crowds, the heat, and extended park hours means you’ll need to build in more downtime.
Plan at least one evening each in the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood, and Epcot, so that you can see all the closing shows. If you’re traveling during the off-season, when Hollywood Studios’ Fantasmic! and the Magic Kingdom parades only run on some nights, make sure you’re in the right park on the right night.
Set Your Priorities
Poll your family on what attractions they most want to see and build these priorities into the plan. I’d let each family member choose three must-sees per park. For example, at Hollywood, 10-year-old Jeremy wants to ride Toy Story Mania, the Tower of Terror, and the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. His six-year-old sister, Elyce, chooses Muppet*Vision 3D, Star Tours, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. Mom thinks the ’50s Prime Time Café sounds like a hoot and wants to ride the Great Movie Ride and Toy Story Mania. Dad is all over the Tower of Terror/Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster thing and thinks the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show sounds interesting.
Because of some overlap, you have nine items on this family’s personal must-see list. They should make sure that they experience these attractions even if they don’t do anything else. With any luck, they’ll have some extra time and may be able to work in a few other things as well, but the key is to make sure you honor everyone’s top three choices.
And, of course, this customized “must-see” list then becomes the basis of your FastPass+ list. Use the individual park chapters in this book to determine which attractions on your list are most apt to draw a long line or move slowly and then use FastPass+ to guarantee you get to enjoy them with minimal waits.
Cut Some Deals
Building each family member’s must-sees into the touring plan has many advantages. You’re seeing the best of the best, you’ve broken out of that “gotta do it all” compulsion, and the kids feel that they’re giving input and are full partners in the vacation planning.
There’s another huge advantage: A customized touring plan minimizes whining and fights. Your 12-year-old is more apt to bear a character breakfast with good grace if she knows that you’ll be spending the afternoon at Blizzard Beach, one of her top choices. Kids understand fair. They might fidget a bit in Chefs de France, but if you’ve already covered Soarin’ and Mission: SPACE, you’re perfectly justified in saying, “This is Mom’s first choice in Epcot, so be quiet and eat your croquette de boeuf.”
Break Up the Days
Divide each day of your visit into three components: morning, afternoon, and evening. It isn’t necessary to plan where you’ll be every hour on the hour—that’s way too confining—but you need some sense of how you’ll break up the day. (Note: This plan assumes you have the Park Hopper option on your tickets.)
Pencil in things that have to be done at a certain time. You have a character breakfast for Wednesday morning, for example, or you must be in the Magic Kingdom on Friday night because that’s the only time the evening parade is scheduled during your visit.
Morning: Magic Kingdom
Afternoon: Rest by hotel pool
Morning and afternoon: Animal Kingdom
Wednesday (rest day)
Morning: Character breakfast
Afternoon: Downtown Disney, then early to bed
Morning and afternoon: Blizzard Beach
Afternoon: Rest by pool
Evening: Magic Kingdom